A long way from home
The Home Children by Phyllis Harrison tells the story of 40 of the more than 100,000 British children who came to Canada to work on farms between 1870 and 1930
As you celebrate your Christmas Eve
In the traditions of your own way,
Take a moment to pause and remember
How sad it was for a home child that day.
A hundred thousand British children
Set sail toward Canada's shore,
To be tagged and shipped to farmers
Seeing their Moms and Dads no more.
To a land called milk and honey
These children went to live.
Their little hands became calloused
From the hard work they had to give.
How sad a Christmas Eve would be
To a home child so far from home and family.
As the carollers sang "Silent Night,"
Tears fell as he cried with fright.
At Christmastime a child should be
Gathered around his Christmas tree,
Not way off in a distant land
Made to live and work like a man.
Christmas bells are ringing
Around this time of year.
Families gather merrily
To spread their Christmas cheer.
Take time out this Christmas
To think back on the past.
And remember all the home children
Whose lives were shattered like broken glass.Grace MacCollum
Saint John, New Brunswick
Canada - 1998
Stormy winter evenings were very long when I was a kid. No television in those days! Sitting in the kitchen with the old wood stove keeping us warm and cozy, was a good time to ask for a story. Dad would oblige with tales of his childhood days. If it were nearing the Christmas season, he would describe in detail the Christmas drawings that Walter James sketched for him. It seemed to me that my father thought this fellow knew everything.
I once asked Dad, "Who was Walter James?" His reply was, "He was a home boy from England who lived with us."
That answer really left me scratching my head. What did he mean by a home boy from England?
Another reference was made to home boys by our family friend Harry. I heard him tell my parents, "I was one of the lucky home boys. Mrs. Campbell treated me as a member of the family."
From 1870 to 1930 more than 100,000 British home children arrived to work on Canadian farms. Travelling in groups of up to 400, their worldly possessions in small trunks, these youngsters thought they were coming to the land of milk and honey.
"The Home Children", edited by Phyllis Harrison, has the personal stories of 40 of these children who came to Canada from England. They recall the long sea voyage and their arrival at unknown railway platforms with name tags around their necks, to be met by unknown farmers.
From childhood memories, the writers tell of the harsh conditions that separated them from their families, the hard work, the unfair treatment and, most of all, the loneliness.
When I was a growing up, Winnie was one of the happiest mothers I knew. She always had a smile on her face and a hug for her daughters. I was not aware of the unhappy childhood she had suffered as a home child, until I read her story in the book "The Home Children."
Some of the children were fortunate enough to find homes with kind people, but according to stories in this book, many of the children were not so lucky.
Christmas Eve would probably find a home child lying on a bed in the poorest bedroom in the house, fighting back tears, while visions of having a loving home with caring parents danced through his head. As he fell asleep, he might have been humming:
"I'll be home for Christmas, where I used to be.
Please have popcorn and presents on my Christmas tree.
Christmas Eve is lonely, where no love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."
* * *
Some very informative sites:
Marjorie Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario is presently researching all of the organizations which brought children and young women to Canada between 1833 and 1935. Her website is http://ist.uwaterloo.ca/~marj/genealogy/homeadd.html. She also has an interesting site of Young Immigrant names she has compiled at http://ist.uwaterloo.ca/~marj/genealogy/children/children.html and be sure to drop into her queries site of Young Immigrants (Information being sought on these individuals) at http://ist.uwaterloo.ca/~marj/genealogy/children/queries.html
For those seeking Middlemore Home records write to:
Middlemore Homes, c/o Northfield Baptist Church, Northfields, Birmingham B31 2NQ.
Telephone from Canada is 011-44-121-477-8006
"All inquires to the Birmingham Archives address are logged so if one wished to establish that they have been received, acknowldeged and forwarded one should contact Sian Roberts, Senior Archivist at the City Archives who will be very happy to check the files". He's at: (Sian.Roberts@birmingham.gov.uk).
***** October 27, 1999
The National Archives of Canada has a searchable database of Home Children at http://www.archives.ca/exec/naweb.dll?fs&020110&e&top&0********
Queries concerning Home Children
Austin Murdock: In 1891, William and Lucy Austin were living in the slums of Birmingham, with seven children aged from three to 20. Two other children were not living at home. William was a labourer and had been brought up in a small rural village in Leicestershire but I imagine that poverty drove him to the city to try and get a better living. He moved to Birmingham, where he worked for 16 years at the Corporation Water Department as a tester. In June of 1892, he died of pneumonia and pleurisy at the age of 48. His wife Lucy then worked as a scrubber at the Queens Hospital. By February 1893 an approach had been made to the Middlemore Home to take in 13-year-old James Austin, as he didn't like to be a burden to his mother and wanted to go to Canada.
James, who was born on Nov. 28, 1879, sailed to Canada on May 23, 1893, probably on the SS Siberian which arrived in Halifax on the third of June. The last contact I have for James is in 1901 at Waasis. His brother Frederick, born May 14, 1883, appears to have left England the same year. He married Mabel Murdock in Fredericton in 1911 and they are buried in Fredericton. I am trying to locate any descendants of these two Austin brothers who came to New Brunswick as home children. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Peter Birkett, 75 Bagworth Road, Barlestone, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, CV13 OEQ, England. Or E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bolton - Boyd: James Bolton was born on Dec. 22, 1902, to John Bolton and Elizabeth Hannah Winstanley in Birmingham, England. In 1909, John Bolton died at the age of 31, leaving his wife to look after four children, the youngest just 16 months old. By 1912, she had sold her house and had been thrown out of work. A report by the Middlemore Home states the mother and children were literally starving. On May 27, 1913, James sailed, along with a party of 110 home children of the Middlemore Home from Liverpool, aboard the SS Mongolian for Halifax. Luckily for him, he was sent to live with Andrew and Cassie Boyd of Gagetown, N.B. Mr. and Mrs. Boyd died in 1918 and 1920 respectively. It appears James came to Saint John. According to a 1945 City Directory, he was working at the Canada Veneer Plant and residing at 84 Rothesay Ave. In 1953, he was living at 25 St. Paul St. in a building owned by John Zinck, of 106 Rothesay Ave.
Newspaper articles in the Telegraph Journal, Oct. 16 and 17, 1953, report the finding of the body of James Bolton on the Saint John Horticultural Association property by 23-year-old Gordon Love of 96 Sydney St. Mr. Bolton had been missing for three weeks and had died as a result of a bleeding ulcer. More details about James can be found at http://users.webtime.com.au/sknowles/JBstory.html as well as pictures of him and a friend with initials I.W. at http://users.webtime.com.au/sknowles/jbphotos.html. I am very interested in hearing from anyone who may have known or has any information about James Bolton, my grandmother's half-brother. Also, I would like to know more about Andrew and Cassie Boyd of Gagetown.
Steven Knowles, c/o BankWest, GPO Box 2352, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. E-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fax number +61 7 38397887. Or phone +61 7 32190262.
Simonds - Stewart: I'd be very interested to know more about my great-grandfather, William Albert Simonds. He came to Saint John from Bristol, England, in 1871 with, so the family believes, the Barnardo Home Children. He would have been eight years old and his brother Frank (possibly Fred) was 11. We know nothing about which farm(s) they were placed on, but we can surmise that they would have seen the Great Fire of Saint John of 1877, perhaps from a rural vantage point. Any information on William's brother would be wonderful.
The Saint John City Directories build a picture of William as a resourceful man making a living many ways. There's an entry in 1892 as a car inspector with CPR living on Moore Street. Then, in 1900, he moved to 10 and 12 Canon St., and in 1905, was a manufacturer's agent. He owned a wholesale grocery at 89 Union St. and later at 10 Water St.
He married Jessie Elizabeth Stewart in Saint John and had three sons and three daughters. Sons Franklin Wingate and Frederick William were of Saint John, but John Stewart went to Niagara Falls, New York. Two daughters, Marjorie Gordon Colwell and Dorothy Isabel Urquhart (a champion golfer), also stayed in Saint John. My grandmother, Hildred Stewart Tait, moved to Niagara Falls after she married.
William's daughter, Marjorie, worked with him at the store and an interior photo of father and daughter is on file at the New Brunswick Museum, Douglas Avenue. His front-page obituary, printed in The Evening Times Globe, June 15, 1932, says he was a member of Albion Masonic No. 1 Union Lodge, past chancellor of No. 2 Knights of Pythias and a member of St. David's Church. It also states that before his illness he had been employed by the Dominion Government as an inspector during dredging operations of the Saint John Harbour and was the Saint John representative of the Sussex Beverage Company.
He was a self-made man with no known childhood or roots. We look forward to hearing from anyone with information that might help in our search of our great-grandfather, William Albert Simonds, and his older brother.
Joann Stevenson 49 Hamilton Hall Dr., Markham, Ont., L3P 3L5. Or E-mail to email@example.com.
Queries have been grouped together to cover the year 1998 and can be viewed at Queries-1998
Ruby Cusack is a genealogy buff living in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Readers are invited to send their New Brunswick genealogical queries to Ruby at firstname.lastname@example.org. When E-Mailing please put Yesteryear Families in the Subject line. Please include in the query, your name and postal address as someone reading the newspaper, may have information to share with you but not have access to E-mail. Queries should be no more than 45 words in length.
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